There are many conflicting diet theories when it comes to the best way to lose weight (and keep it off)…enough to make you want to dive head first into that chocolate sundae.
“We’re constantly bombarded by so much confusing information about weight loss that it can be difficult to know what to believe,” says Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, author of “Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer.”
While it likely took more than a week to gain unwanted fat, most people wish they could lose it quicker than it came on. “When it comes to losing weight, simply cutting back on your portion sizes could be the most underrated way to drop pounds. However, if you’re already eating less (and exercising more) and are still stuck, there are little tricks of the trade that can help jumpstart your efforts,” Ansel says.
Read on for twelve ways to help you naturally speed up weight loss and shed those stubborn pounds.
1. Drink water
Water helps you feel full, so you eat less. “Consuming eight to 10 cups of plain water daily can boost weight loss because research shows that thirst can be confused with hunger,” says Misti Gueron, MS, RDN, nutritionist at the Khalili Center. “Many people reach for food because of cravings, low energy or boredom, and these habits can lead to unnecessary weight gain,” she added. In fact, it’s so powerful that one study found that people who drank two cups of water 30 minutes before meals for three months dropped nearly three more pounds than people who didn’t pre-hydrate before mealtime. To help achieve your weight loss goal, try drinking eight ounces of water when you first wake up, carrying a BPA-free water bottle or tracking your water intake on your phone.
2. Keep a food journal
Food journaling may not sound sexy, but time and time again research proves that it works. In fact, according to a study from Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research, keeping a food diary can double a person's weight loss. “Without this tool, many people forget the snacks and bites taken while standing, preparing food for others or munching in the car. Over time these unrecognized snacks can lead to several extra pounds gained per year,” says Gueron. If you’re not the pad and paper type, Ansel recommends keeping a running journal on your smartphone or trying an app like MyFitness Pal or Lose It.
3. Flip your portions
While it’s good to be aware of portion sizes on nutrition labels, why not flip them to your benefit? For example, instead of a bowl of ice cream with a few blueberries, have a bowl of blueberries with a spoonful of ice cream. While one cup of ice cream has more than 250 calories and not much in the way of nutrition, one cup of blueberries contains only 80 calories and is a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Or, instead of a plate of pasta with some veggies, have a plate of veggies with some pasta. A mix of steamed or roasted cruciferous vegetables works great with a smaller amount of pasta. Not only does this ingredient swap cut the calories in the dish, the additional veggies provide nutrients like fiber, potassium and vitamin A.
4. Try a HIIT workout
“If you are looking to speed up weight loss, adding 30 minutes of cardio three times per week will certainly help burn calories and body fat,” says Amie Hoff, Certified Fitness Professional in New York City. Short on time? Hoff suggests a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout. “The idea is to push your body hard for a short burst with a period of recovery. I like to have people start with a 10 to 15 second sprint (run, bike, jump rope, run stairs or anything that gets your heart rate up) and then back off for 30 seconds to recover. As you get stronger, you will increase the sprint time and decrease the recovery period. A 15 minute HIIT session can be equivalent to a regular 30 minute cardio workout.”
5. Eat before eating
While it might sound counterintuitive to eat something before you head out to a restaurant or party, showing up famished to the event will likely make it all the harder to stick to your weight loss goals. Eating something small (about 100 calories) with fiber (two to four grams) is a great way to readjust your appetite so you can show up and mingle a bit before diving into the cheese dip. Choose a whole food to take the edge off, like an apple or handful of nuts. For example, 30 pistachios are just 100 calories and offer two grams of fiber, along with protein and healthy fats, to truly take the edge off your appetite while providing a satisfying pre-party crunch. Enjoy your mini snack with a tall glass of water before the festivities to reduce your chances of post-party weight gain.
6. Burn more calories with muscle
While cardio burns calories as you work out, strength training will help you burn more calories even while you rest. “The beautiful thing about strength training is that not only do you get sculpted and toned muscles, but the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is,” says Hoff. A faster metabolism means more calories burned, and in turn faster weight loss. Hoff says incorporating strength training two to three times a week is ideal. “No need for heavy weights; you can build muscle by using your own body weight and exercise bands.”
7. Choose healthy snacks
Americans are snacking more than ever, so making smart snacking choices are key to achieving your weight loss goals. Aim for snacks that satisfy by choosing foods that provide a mix of protein and fiber, stabilizing blood sugar levels and keeping hunger at bay. An apple and almond butter, a plain yogurt with berries, or high-fiber crispbread crackers and hummus can all be smart snacking options. For example, two Wasa Flax Seed crispbread crackers combined with two tablespoons of hummus provide 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber for staying power. For an added boost, add a few teaspoons of hot sauce. Research shows spicy foods may help speed up metabolism and curb appetite.
8. Eat more beans
Beans are an excellent source of slow-release carbohydrates, as well as a good source of protein and fiber, which slow the digestive process to help you stay fuller, longer. “Research finds that eating just three-quarters of a cup of beans a day for six weeks can help you lose close to six pounds. And if you’re trying to lower your cholesterol, it’s a double win as the soluble fiber in beans helps whisk cholesterol out of your body,” says Ansel. She also says you don’t necessarily need to cook dry beans from scratch. Canned beans are one of the most underrated convenience foods, so keep a rotation of all kinds - like black, pinto, chickpea and cannellini - in your pantry. Try adding beans to your soups and salads, add them minced to meat dishes, enjoy a bean dip like hummus, or toss them in a salad.
9. Cut out sugary drinks
If you make the right food choices and watch your portions but you find that you’re still struggling to lose weight, don’t forget to consider the calories consumed in your favorite sweetened beverages. “Café mocha’s or other popular coffee beverages, sweetened teas, sodas and fruit drinks can easily add 150 to 500 calories extra to your day and daily consumption can easily foster a pound or more weight gain per week,” says Gueron. Stick to water or unsweetened tea and save the sweetened stuff for a special treat.
10. Be good to your gut
Instead of doing a detox or cleanse in the hopes of resetting your GI system (and speeding up weight loss), boost your gut health naturally with fiber-filled foods. “Fiber is a carbohydrate found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but unlike other forms of carbohydrates, it is harder to digest. As it passes through your digestive system, it stimulates the receptors that tell your brain you’re full. People who consume more fiber tend to have healthier body weights,” says Gueron. If you’re looking for more specific fiber-filled foods to reboot your gut, eat the three P’s: prunes, pulses, and pears. Prunes help maintain good digestive health and can positively affect the bacteria living in the gut. Pulses, which include lentils, beans, and peas, improve gut health by strengthening the gut barrier. And pears contain prebiotic fiber, which help promote intestinal health by providing food for beneficial probiotic bacteria.
11. Close the kitchen
In today’s modern era of 24-hour meal delivery and extra-large food portions, many people are confused about how much and how often to eat. Gueron says one of the most common questions she gets is, “How late can I eat dinner and still lose weight?” Recently, several studies have shown that avoiding food past certain hours of the day or intermittent fasting can promote weight loss. She says a moderate approach that boosts weight loss and comes without apparent side effects for the healthy individual is the 12-hour intermittent fasting approach. An example is having your first morning meal no earlier than 7 a.m. and your last evening meal no later than 7 p.m. Thus, 12 hours without food or caloric beverages consumed gives your body time to rest from eating and promotes fat burning without unnecessary hunger that daytime fasting can cause.
12. Get more sleep
A commonly overlooked obstacle to eating better (and losing weight) is sleep. While sleep needs vary, according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults require seven to nine hours a night. Unfortunately, two-thirds of people report experiencing sleep problems at least a few nights a week, with women more prone to sleep problems than men. A review study that looked at 36 studies on sleep and weight gain found short sleep duration was independently linked to weight gain. Studies show the fewer minutes you spend asleep, the more likely you are to feel hungrier and make poor food choices the next day. Make sure you’re getting enough Zzzzs to reap the rewards of your weight loss efforts.